Sad News from Home


After sailing on the Atlantic Universal for about Nine months, I signed off the ship in Sheerness, England and went back home.



I did not have happy feelings on arrival at home because of the news I’ve already had about my father’s ill health. He went through a major operation but did not seem to recover, well. This made us very sad.



In the meantime, I applied to the Maritime College in Sydney, Australia and within a few weeks after having received my acceptance, I had to make necessary preparations to proceed to Australia latest by end January in the coming year. Whatever the work I had, I always found time to take my father to the doctors for consultations and treatment.



Christmas that year was not a good one for my family and I.



New year was dawn, and I left for Australia with my wife on January 28 that year.  Upon arrival in Sydney, we were met and taken to his house by one time the superintendent of the shipping company I worked for.  He helped us to find an apartment and when we found a suitable one we shifted to live there.



I joined the college, and started attending classes the first week of February. I called my father regularly, and it appeared his condition was deteriorating.  I was engrossed in my studies preparing for the forthcoming exams and without my knowledge I had let a few weeks pass without checking on my father’s health condition.



I immediately called home when I realised this, but unfortunately the telephone was out of order. Then I contacted one of my father’s brothers who told me that his condition was not very good. I felt that he avoided giving me details.



On the 7th of April 1989, I returned home after completing one paper. Well, I had no problems answering that and I thought that being a Friday I must have a good evening.



Around 4.15 p.m. the telephone rang, when I picked it up for a moment I thought it was my father’s voice but what that person said was not clear. I immediately called home and was happy to have found the phone working.



My mother’s cousin answered the phone and he asked me to hold on while my mother came on line. She could not talk and was breaking down; with great difficulty she said “Son, your father passed away. On hearing this the receiver in my hand fell on the floor and, with that the line was disconnected.  



I called again and my mother’s cousin came on line and told me that my father passed away at home at about 12.00 noon on that day.



It was very bad news. With all I knew of my father’s sickness I always thought that he would live for another few years.



I was all alone and wept uncontrollably with thoughts of my father tearing my heart, soul and my very being.

                                                                                                                                                                         

I had nothing much to do; I called home and spoke with my mother once again. I confirmed that it is impossible for me to attend the funeral and therefore they ought not to delay it but have it on Sunday when it’s convenient for people to attend. She agreed and said she will convey the message to my brother.



Thereafter, I began to pray and I refer to the following verse from the Holy bible: John  11 : 25 –26

Then I imagined that, ‘my father had served the purpose of God and has returned back to Him.’

While serving on the "Atlantic Universal" few incidents that I remember.

The ship loaded cargo for a port in South Atlantic Ocean, and sailed out of Le-Havre. We experienced very bad weather and it was in the month of November that year.  As it was found not safe to navigate on the planned route, the Captain decided to come towards the Island of Azores and cross the Atlantic. A day on the new route and we found that the weather improved. The Captain seemed more relaxed and came up to me and said “Come John, let us sing the national Anthem.” 

Then I said to him “Sir, you sing yours and I will sing mine!”

He did not like that but there seemed nothing much he could do about it.

With that, I had to face more rough weather onboard the ship while all the others were enjoying the good weather in mid Atlantic Ocean.

The Ship called at the port of Maputo

There was a bulk carrier berthed in front of our ship, and it was discharging wheat. There were many security men preventing and chasing the people collecting spilled and scattered wheat on the pier. It was a great task for them to get rid of so many people.

It was a very sad sight.

I was talking to the cargo Supervisor designated to our ship. “Mister, why are those people fighting to collect the scattered wheat along with the dust? To my understanding, this is aid cargo and is to be distributed free of charge.”

The cargo Supervisor grinned in obvious annoyance and said cynically - “Who is getting those free?” “Yes.  It must have been meant to be so, but none of us get a grain of that free or for that matter for a fair price.” He continued, “for your information, Mister Mate, all or most of that stuff go to other African countries by land.” “Can’t you see part of the cargo is being loaded to railway wagons?” He raised his voice and said, “all that is sold to other neighboring countries by our government.” “This country is starving. No education, no medical facilities, no houses, people are on the road.” The salary that I am earning  for one month is not enough to feed my wife and four children for two weeks. What happens after that?”

He continued,“My eldest daughter is only 17 years. She left home and, I understand that she spends nights in nightclubs. ”

“I went with my wife looking for her. I am sure she went into hiding and never came to meet us.” “She was very good in her studies, I planned to send her to South Africa but before that she deserted us.” “Now I have given up and I am not interested any more!”

Looking for greener pastures.


After passing the First Mates’ Exam, I wanted to change the company. And, I started to look for jobs with foreign companies. Unfortunately, at that time jobs at sea were very hard to find.

It was around this time I saw an advertisement on a weekend Newspaper calling applications for Second Officers and Third Engineers with a superior certificate of competency. I did not waste time on this and, I applied. I was called for an interview in Colombo. The person who interviewed me was a Captain, and he was a British National.  The interview went through, and I got the job.

Three weeks later, myself and a Third Engineer, flew from Colombo to Bremerhaven to join the vessel "Atlantic Universal”. The wages were good, and I started to collect money to go for the Master’s Exam.

My father had been to Australia on Scholarship, and had very good things to say about the country.  Therefore, for the Master’s exam, my first choice was Australia.

After an initial, unpleasant and unsettled situation on board “Atlantic Universal” ;the change of command lead to a peaceful and happy life on board. I got along very well with the new Captain. It was plain and pleasant sailing. Thank God for that!

I gained a lot of experience in my work because the vessel was a reefer ship that carried refrigerated cargoes, and was on worldwide trading. The longest voyage during the time I was on board was from the port of San Antonio, Chile to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was approximately 10,300 Nautical miles.
                                                    m.v. "ATLANTIC UNIVERSAL"
                                                         transiting the Suez Canal.

I, finally made it.

I sat the First Mates Foreign Going Exam in July that year. I failed my Oral Exam and I had to repeat it. In the meantime, I got the results of my written exam on the 1st of August 1985 and according to the results I had passed well. But, to complete the full exam I had to pass the Orals. 

As suggested by our friends in Bandra, we moved out of the apartment in Four bungalow, Andheri and shifted back to stay at our friends, Roby and Philu's place.

We shifted our belongings to “Sai Datta Apartment” where Robby and his family lived, and returned the apartment to Amitha, Tarun’s wife. She was happy that we had maintained the apartment and all was well at the time of handing over.

I passed my orals, after three attempts, on the 2nd of December 1985.

From the Mercantile Marine Department Office, I went to Our Lady of The Holy Rosary’s church in Mahim. At the church, I lit candles and thanked Our Lord Jesus and Our Lady for their divine help.

I was happy! A free man, to say the least.

From the church I proceeded to the College and thanked all my teachers. Very specially, Capt. Joseph, Capt. Rewari and Capt. Subramaniam.

When I met Capt. Rewari, he invited me to his house for dinner later that day. They all were very happy that, finally, I had passed.

There were so many things to do on that day.                              

Next in the agenda was to go to the Air Lanka Office in Bombay and make a reservation to return home.

The 2nd was a Monday and I got a seat on the flight to Colombo on the 7th of December.

On completion of the reservation, I went to the Central Telegraph Office in Bombay and sent a cable to my wife informing her of my success on the exam and also of the arrival details.

There was very little money left.

In the evening, I went to Capt. Rewari’s residence and had dinner with them.

Thereafter, I had to celebrate with my friend Joe, who was waiting for me at home when I returned.

It was a simple celebration. Well, well, I had come the very hard way to reach the present situation.


                                                 Holy Rosary church in Mahim, Mumbai
Captain P.S.Barve (second from left) was the Chief Examiner of Masters and Mates at that time. He examined and passed me in my Oral exam.

Mumbai Soujourn

We have some what settled down in, Andheri West, our sojourn in Mumbai. In the meantime, my wife had made some friends in the same floor of the building and they were our neighbors.  Deviyani and Ambesh lived in the adjoining apartment. They had two little sons. On the same floor, right opposite to us was Anupama and Baldev and, they had three daughters of the age group between ten years and sixteen years.

Both the men were business people and they left home very early and returned very late in the night. Both these families were vegetarians. The friendship between wives had developed to such warm depths that almost every day we used to get one dish of food cooked by them. I met the men only on Sundays and, that too in the garden area of the building.  

During the first few months, we made it a habit to visit our friends in Bandra on Friday and Saturday nights.

On some Friday evenings, we had company; five to six of the Sri Lankans studying for the second Mates and my batch mates visited us at Andheri. My wife being the only female did not have a problem cooking because many of the younger students took turns and helped her in the kitchen.

They had very late dinner and returned to their boarding houses, in Bombay Central and in Chembur.

It was good company, all the way.

Sinking of M.V. DERBYSHIRE on September 09, 1980

When we look at maritime disasters and loss of lives at sea; from RMS Titanic to more recent ones, such as that of “Costa Concordia”, for some reason or the other, my thoughts always drift to that of M.V. Derbyshire.  

Derbyshire was launched in late 1975 and entered service in June 1976, as the last ship of the Bridge-class combination carrier, originally named Liverpool Bridge. Liverpool Bridge and En
glish Bridge (later Worcestershire) were built by Seabridge for Bibby Line. The ship was laid up for two of its four years of service life.[

In 1978, Liverpool Bridge was renamed Derbyshire, the fourth vessel to carry the name in the company's fleet. On 11 July 1980, on what turned out to be the vessel's final voyage, Derbyshire left Sept Isles, Canada, her destination being Kawasaki, Japan. Derbyshire was carrying a cargo of 157,446 tonnes of iron ore.

On 9 September 1980, Derbyshire hove-to in Typhoon Orchid some 230 miles from Okinawa, and was overwhelmed by the tropical storm killing all aboard. Total loss of lives was 44 including two women. Derbyshire never issued a Mayday distress message.

The search for Derbyshire commenced on 15 September 1980 and was called off six days later when no trace of the vessel was found, and it was declared lost. Six weeks after Derbyshire sank, one of the vessel's lifeboats was sighted by a Japanese tanker.[


In June 1994, the wreck of Derbyshire was found at a depth of 4 km, spread over 1.3 km. An additional expedition spends over 40 days photographing and examining the debris field looking for evidence of what sank the ship. Ultimately it was determined that waves crashing over the front the ship had sheared off the covers of small ventilation pipes near the bow. Over the next 30+ hours, seawater had entered through the exposed pipes into the forward section of the ship, causing the bow to slowly ride lower and lower in the water. Eventually, the bow was completely exposed to the full force of the rough waves which caused the massive hatch on the first cargo hold to buckle inward allowing hundreds of tons of water to enter in moments. As the ship started to sink, the second, then third hatches also failed dragging the ship underwater. As the ship sank, the water pressure caused the ship to be twisted and torn apart by implosion.

Repost - Tupaia: Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator and Translator

Captain james Cook visited the Hawaiian islands in 1778. When he came ashore, the people mistook him for one of their gods. This illustration shows the Hawaiians offering gifts to the English captain. 



On his first voyage of Pacific exploration Cook had the services of a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, who drew a hand-drawn Chart of the islands within 2,000 miles (3,200 km) radius (to the north and west) of his home island of Ra'iatea. Tupaia had knowledge of 130 islands and named 74 on his Chart. Tupaia had navigated from Ra'iatea in short voyages to 13 islands. He had not visited western Polynesia, as since his grandfather’s time the extent of voyaging by Raiateans had diminished to the islands of eastern Polynesia. His grandfather and father had passed to Tupaia the knowledge as to the location of the major islands of western Polynesia and the navigation information necessary to voyage to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

Tupaia took Taiata, a servant-boy, with him on HMS Endeavour. Taiata’s experiences were described in the officers’ journals only occasionally, but this engraving of him has survived, based on a lost sketch by Sydney Parkinson. "The Lad Taiyota, Native of Otaheite, in the Dress of his Country," engraved by R. B. Godfrey. S. Parkinson, A Voyage to the South Seas (1773), pl. IX, fp.66. © The Trustees of the British Museum. 

Tupaia was a respected figure in the Society Islands and something of a virtuoso. A member of the elite arioi society of travelers and performers for the god ‘Oro, he was a ritual specialist, skillful navigator, and negotiator. He had also witnessed in 1767 the extraordinary visit of the first ship from beyond the Pacific: Samuel Wallis’s Dolphin. He knew something of what to expect from these visitors. He established a friendship with the naturalist Joseph Banks, helped Cook in relations with chiefs and learned from the ship’s artists how to draw in European style. Near the end of the Endeavour’s stay he announced he was going to accompany them to England. Cook and Banks, on the lookout for a guide, felt he "was the likeliest person to answer our purpose."




Polynesian war canoes at Tahiti sketched by Cook's artist 

After leaving Tahiti, the Endeavour made several stops among the Society Island archipelago. In each place Tupaia used the correct ceremonial forms when greeting the chiefs, easing some of the tensions of these early meetings across cultural divides. In August they departed, as Banks said, "in search of what chance and Tupaia might direct us to."

They steered southward towards New Zealand, to try to determine if it was the northern tip of a great southern continent. Tupaia drew maps and read the currents, weather, and sky. On reaching New Zealand, Tupaia helped establish working relationships between the Maori people and the European visitors. He was able to translate, as the language of the Society Islands was the original basis of the language of the Maori. His lineage was important: he was from the Maori’s ancestral homeland, Hawaiki (Ra’iatea), and was seen to hold substantial spiritual power (mana). There were still violent clashes and misunderstandings. Tupaia, though, created a lasting impression on Maori communities and it was the great priest, rather than Cook or Banks, who was most persistently asked after when voyagers stopped by.

After establishing that the two islands of New Zealand were not the bountiful continent they sought, Cook and his men departed for the east coast of Australia. In April 1770, Cook tried to land with a few officers, the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, and Tupaia in a bay that would later form part of Sydney. Two men (of the Gweagal or Eora people) met them with shouts and spears. Tupaia tried in vain to find any words in common and Cook offered gifts, but the visitors only managed to get ashore after firing on the men. Without the ability to obtain food and information from the locals, Cook had to continue on up the coast. Tupaia was of help in northern Australia, when he was able to establish a trusting relationship with the Guugu-Yimithirr people.

From Australia, the voyagers made their way to Dutch Batavia (present-day Jakarta). There, in December 1770, Tupaia and his servant Taiata fell ill. Dismayed at ever having left Tahiti, Tupaia died a few days after Taiata.

An Officer and a Gentleman

Time passed without any significant events – and it was the month of May. Although I had a student visa, my wife went on a tourist visa and it was due to expire during the month of May,1985.

In Bombay, immigration and visa matters were handled by the Special branch of the Police. One day I went there with my wife for the purpose of requesting for an extension.

As usual the place was crowded and we waited for our turn. We went into the office around 9.00 a.m. and our turn to meet one of the officers came up around 11.00a.m.. I went upto the Officer and began to explain our problem, first of all he did not listen to me and suddenly got on his feet and shouted at me, “You should know that we can not extend tourist visa and, you must send your wife back to Sri Lanka and re-apply for the visa and come back here” and after saying that, settled back on his seat and called the next person waiting to meet him.

When I turned back I saw that my wife was in tears because we were put into a very helpless and a very embarrassing position by the Officer concerned.  I consoled her and told her not to worry that this was not the end of the world and that we will look for some one who will help us in this matter. On one side of the Office, there were two separate rooms. At the entrance to one of those rooms, there was a name board and it said D.D. Jog Deputy Commissioner of Police.

I walked up to the entrance and spoke with the police constable who was on guard. I told him that I need to see the D.C.P. He then asked me whether I knew him. I said “Yes” and, I was allowed in.                                                                              

As I entered I saw a Police Officer in uniform seated at his table. He was busy studying a file. I stood still and waited for him to look up. He looked up and asked me “Yes, what can I do for you?”. I addressed him as Sir, and told him about my purpose of coming to Bombay and that the exams are due in few months and that I have to get my wife’s visas extended. 

He rang the bell and the same officer who rejected us came to answer the bell. He saluted the D.C.P. and stood to attention. The D.C.P. and told him “this gentleman has his exams coming up and he has no time to waste in this office. You do the needful and extend the visa of his spouse and make sure that he does not have to come back.”

I thanked the D.C.P. with all my heart and went and met with the Officer concerned.  When I returned to him he had taken off his Lion’s skin and hung it out. Sheepishly he told me, “Why you had to go to him, I would have done it myself”. Any way the job was done thanks to Mr. Jog  and until I left India I did not have to go that office. However, prior to leaving the Office after obtaining the visas, I went upto the D.C.P. and thanked him. He said to me “You don’t have to thank me, I only did my job.”  


The Police-Immigration Office close the Metro Cinema in Mumbai

Although, I knew Mr.. Alan Thorley, ex-D.C.P. Greater Bombay was well-known to me but I never mentioned his name anywhere.    

This incident added a page to life’s book of experience. More significantly, it paved way for us to meet an Officer and a Gentleman in the Indian Police Force.

Mr. Jog, I salute you! I do not know where you are, today. But my respect for you, still remains!

My Salutations to the Government of India

Capt. T.K. Joseph was the Principal of the College. He was residing in Santa Cruz and on some days we travelled together in the train from Bandra to Reay Road. At times, we talked about matters with regard to studies and also about past and present Sri Lankan students of the L.B.S. Nautical College. He always inquired after our welfare.

As an overseas student I paid Indian Rupees 500 as the capitation fee in addition to the same fees that any other Indian student in my class paid. In other parts of the world that did not happen. There was always a huge difference in fees between locals and overseas students. For this and for educating us I always have my salutations to the Government of India.   

In 1984 and up to about October 1985, I paid only 85.00 Indian Rupees per month as the tuition fees for college. My friends in Bandra have told me that, for a Montessori student in Bandra they paid about 100.00 Indian Rupees at that time. There was a big shortage of lecturers in the College. Due to this reason, Capt. Joseph, Capt. Rewari and Capt. Subramaniam had to work very hard. Apart from lecturing they also had to do much administrative work and marking of test papers, etc.,

Once when I was travelling in the train with Capt. Joseph, I told him, “Sir, I understand that, Bandra Montessori classes charge 100.00 Rupees from each child and I pay only 85.00 Rupees for First Mates F.G. tuitions. Why don't you suggest to the Indian Government to increase the tuition for us from Rs. 85.00 to atleast Rs 350.00 as well as the fees of other grades proportionately. With that, they can then increase the salaries of the present staff of the College and be able to absorb more lecturers.” 

He began to laugh and said “I am very glad that it came from an overseas student.” Then he went on to state that he can not do such things on his own but has to communicate with the Ministry of Transport of Central Government. However, I had a feeling that, he took serious note of my suggestion.